The first time I met Cleo, she was cowering in her cage. She had a yellow tag on the front of her kennel, which meant I had to discuss the dog’s needs with a staff member before taking her on a walk. When I asked what I should know about Cleo, they told me that she was “extremely shy because she had been through a lot.”
Well, that was something I could resonate with.
I had signed up to volunteer at a local dog shelter a few weeks after I was hospitalized for what I would later learn was a rare disease called vasculitis. Vasculitis is an autoimmune disorder that causes blood vessels to become inflamed and attacks organs, such as the lungs and kidneys, which can induce organ failure. Like many autoimmune diseases, not much is known about what triggers it. Prior to hospitalization, I dropped out of university due to my undiagnosed symptoms and felt like a complete and total failure. I cried nearly every day up until I made this decision. Numbness, pain, hives, insomnia and anaphylaxis-like episodes scared me, as did the fear that I would never get better. Both my parents expected me to thrive in school and yet here I was, defeated because my body decided to attack itself.
I felt numb. Physically, my vasculitis symptoms left me feeling like my body was crushing itself. Emotionally, I felt like a monster had inhabited my body, which stemmed from the insecurity that I had with my appearance. I shrieked when I looked at my reflection and saw that I had broken out in hives or was very swollen. I also felt like collapsing, although I could not tell if this was more from my depression or from the disease which made me want a new body.
For as long as I could remember, I prided myself on being someone who could juggle many different responsibilities, so not being in school or being able to work made me very depressed. I have always loved dogs, so volunteering at a dog shelter seemed like a good thing to keep my mind off of things. What I didn’t expect was caring for someone else who went through a traumatic experience helped me put my own life into perspective.